With this post I return to the book that I've been working on here on these pages: That Which We Already Know...
I can’t remember ever calling one of my younger childhood friends in order to see if they could come out and play – play being a word that encompassed everything from actually playing a game of some sort to simply sitting on a sewer lid scratching words onto the concrete with limestone pebbles. It’s not that we didn’t know how to use the telephone; we did. It’s just that such a device seemed an inappropriately contrived way to reach out to a friend just down the street. Instead, we simply walked on down the street and stood outside whatever door they most commonly used, calling out “Oh, so-and-so!” in a sort of half droning, half sing-songy voice that started at a higher pitch and ended with whatever bass note we could muster.
It was different with my friend, Mark Patrick, though. Mark lived with his younger half-brother, Joe Bowen, in a two-family flat just down the way from Gerhardt’s mansion, and two houses up from the stone yard that we used to visit from time to time. Perhaps I wasn’t certain that the ritual for reaching out to a friend was understood by others who didn’t live on our tiny lane. Perhaps I wasn’t convinced that Mark’s parents would appreciate it – never having met them, or even seen them from afar. Instead, we simply met up with each other in the same way that we first met – out there in the Nursery, whenever the forces of the universe happened to put us in close enough proximity.
Mark and Joe and I went to the same school. Mark was a couple of grades ahead of me and Joe, but despite that being the case it was he and I who were the closer friends. We met out there in the Nursery after all, a reality that trumped whatever social conventions might keep kids from other grades from hanging out with each other on the schoolyard. In the Nursery things followed the laws of nature – existing when conditions were appropriate, ceasing to exist when conditions became otherwise. That is what made our friendship so special, but it is also what made it come to an end so abruptly. For a couple of summers, however, Mark was my favorite friend to hang around with. We’d explore and climb trees and catch frogs and such, and we would do so as kindred spirits – born of the natural forces that still swirled out there in the Nursery.
I only remember visiting Mark’s apartment one time. His parents weren’t home at the time, which might very well have been the only reason for me being invited inside. Joe was elsewhere as well. Come to think of it, I don't recall ever seeing Joe out there in the Nursery. Anyway, Mark and I quietly made our way up a long and narrow side stairway that bypassed the lower level completely and deposited us onto a landing that opened onto a hallway and a collection of rooms that seemed like a veritable ocean of worn hardwood flooring and white plaster walls. Mark led me to the room that he and Joe shared. It contained a bunk bed and little else save for what I recall was a stack of books and notebooks sitting on the floor in one of the corners. The window would have overlooked the little ball field where we played our games of Indian ball, and the meadow rolling down to the nether reaches of our domain. It was summer at the time, though, and the leaves on the trees at the back of the house hindered such an expansive view.
I knew little to nothing about what the rest of Mark’s life was like, but I recall being enchanted with what I perceived as the simplicity of his life. He had the Nursery, and he had a bunk bed from which he could see it once autumn came and the leaves fell from the trees. There was no unnecessary stuff or clutter. All was quiet and calm. At least that was how it seemed to me. Perhaps I was destined to discover Zen in my adulthood, for in adulthood I would attend meditation retreats held in an old Catholic monastery with quarters that were more lavishly appointed than those in which Mark and Joe lived. And yet it was all so gorgeously sufficient, and I felt so wonderfully at home.
Living things thrive when conditions are sufficient. A seed needs but a little soil and moisture and light in order to do what the wind blew it there to do. Children, likewise, thrive when surrounded with just enough to nurture their own imaginations more so than when they are inundated with abundance born of the imaginings of others. I needed a natural area in which to wander about and wonder, as did Mark. That was sufficient to our wellbeing. It was sufficient for us to have such a place as the Nursery and the occasion out there from time to time to happen upon each other in order that a friendship between us might thrive. It was sufficient for us to meet every now and then to rekindle our mutual appreciation of all that existed out there in our domain. It was sufficient for us to share what we had together in the moment rather than getting into stories of what it was like to have a half-brother, or to live upstairs from an altogether different family, or how the amount of stuff that I had was more than the amount of stuff that he had.
We adults tend to confuse sufficiency with poverty. “These accommodations are merely sufficient,” we might say, or “this meal is barely sufficient to satisfy my hunger.” Sufficiency, on the other hand, is precisely what stands between existence and non-existence. As such, it is a special place. It is the sufficiency of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. It is a doorway through which awareness enters. The sufficiency of accommodations during a monastic retreat is precisely what it is required in order to make a visit even the slightest bit worthwhile, and the sufficiency of resources during a child’s formative years is precisely what nurtures creativity and imagination. Children, however, in attending to only what is before them in any given moment, have no conception of sufficiency, even as they are nestled within its embrace – or perhaps especially so. For a child, sufficiency is abundance, for it is precisely what is required. It is the adult mind that measures and compares and starts making value judgments about things and circumstances that begins to cast a wary eye upon sufficiency.
Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:
All other images are the author’s
Copyright 2014 by Mark Frank